I recently received an email from Google asking my company to take part in Google Play. I’m sure I wasn’t the only publishing house to receive such an invitation. However, it led me to send a response about our relationship with Google in several different areas.
While discretion may be the better part of business sense, sometimes it’s hard to stand by and watch a big, powerful business take advantage of the industry you love. And Google has been damaging our industry by listing sites that offer pirated e-books in its search results. My email to Google follows:
“Hi, my name is Rudy Shur, and I am the publisher of Square One. A number of years ago, we did sign an agreement with [the Google Books Partner Program]. Oddly enough, we really never benefitted from this relationship—at least in the same way we benefitted from our relationships with our other e-book partners. While we never quite understood the problem, we saw no real advantage to working with Google.
What we did discover, however, was that Google has no problem allowing other e-book websites to illegally offer a number of our e-book titles, either free or at reduced rates, to anyone on the Internet. When we alerted Google, all we got back was an email telling us that Google has no responsibility and that it is up to us to contact these sites to tell them to stop giving away or selling our titles. Of course we did, but to no avail; somehow I believe that, to begin with, Google logically figured that would be their response.
It seems unconscionable to me that Google would allow the hijacking of copyrighted titles by these sites and actually feel no responsibility for this action, with the reasoning that this type of action on Google’s part would be tantamount to censorship.
Let me ask you something. If a store sells knockoff designer handbags, why is it okay for police to come in, confiscate the illegal merchandise, and arrest and fine the store owners? It’s because the store is profiting from the sales of these illegal goods, in the same way Google can increase its advertising rates because these illegal sites increase the number of users it attracts.
As a long-time publisher, I’ve been reasonably successful in this business; I also have always attempted to do everything right. That approach has allowed me to work with such companies and groups as Macy’s, the National Science Foundation, Corning Inc., and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, to mention just a few. If Google wants to really work with Square One, I would first ask Google to do the right thing as well. But based on the fact that it would rather hide behind the doctrine of noncensorship, Google doing the right thing doesn’t seem likely.
Because you are an employee of Google, I know this is not your doing; but as a publisher, I have to try to protect the work of my authors, and Google’s behavior does not make it easy.
Having dealt with a number of representatives of very large companies who have no real voice in their business’s policies, I certainly understand if the recipient of my email chose to press the Delete key rather than pass it on to a supervisor. But I question why the largest e-book retailers, giant publishers, government officials, and courts essentially do the same thing by discounting the idea that copyrighted works need to be protected.
Now, don’t get me wrong. On many levels, I am a fan of Google’s breakthroughs and achievements, and, along with others, I greatly admire the many free services that Google provides. But I wonder how the good people at Google would feel if one of their patented parts or products were to be knocked off and either given away free or incorporated into a cheaper copycat item. Judging from the Wikipedia entry “Google Litigation,” it seems that the company has no problem going after those it has judged as infringing its patents. I wonder if any of the companies it has sued thought of initially responding to Google by sending the following email:
Since we have nothing to do with the actual infringement of your product, we share no responsibility in making it available to the public. Rather, we advise you to take the matter up with the engineering firm that makes the offending part. In the meantime, we will continue to sell the product until the firm stops offering it to us.
Unfortunately for the publishing industry, under Google’s sense of fairness, copyright protection is not equal to patent protection. It is highly doubtful that the email response I sent to the Google representative is going to make Google rethink its policies, but if enough of us raise our voices loud enough, maybe someone at Google will sit up and take notice.
Rudy Shur heads the editorial program of Square One Publishers in Garden City Park, N.Y.